Scientists at the University of Bolton in the U.K. have come up with a new fiber that can harvest energy from the wind, rain, sun, and even body movements. The lightweight, flexible material could be used to make self-charging casings for laptops, phones, and other portable devices, and it could lend itself to many other uses from clothes to camping gear. The researchers have embarked on a three-year project to develop and commercialize the new fiber with researchers in China.
A New Piezoelectric Fiber
Piezoelectricity refers to a charge that is created when certain crystalline structures are subjected to stress or pressure. Micro scale piezoelectric devices can be used to harvest energy from relatively small vibrations. On a macro scale, many surfaces that are subjected to variable pressure – from highways and train station platforms to dance floors – can generate piezoelectric energy. One limiting factor has been the rigidity of piezoelectric devices, but the Bolton scientists have developed a way to weave piezoelectric capability into a flexible structure that lends itself to a wider variety of uses.
Piezoelectricity Goes Mainstream
Piezoelectricity may sound somewhat exotic right now, but it is just steps away from the mainstream: Energy Harvesting Journal reports that the U.S. military is developing a real-time remote sensor system that run on piezoelectric technology. Along with military applications, wireless energy-scavenging sensors can be used to monitor the reliability of bridges and other infrastructure, and their use could become widespread in many other areas.
Solar-Piezoelectric Hybrid Fiber
With piezoelectric capability, the researchers claim that the new fiber can harvest energy from wind and rain, and from human-derived activity such as carrying a laptop in its case. You could almost hear them thinking “Hmmm…why not!” when they decided to develop solar-capable version of the fiber, too. They also envision using the fiber to construct a stationary tree-like, all-weather energy harvesting structure. As a next step, they are beginning to test the fiber for its potential to collect low-speed ocean tidal energy, too.
Image: Laundry by mysza831 on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.